The presence of food waste, and ways to reduce food waste, has generated significant debate among industry stakeholders, policy makers, and consumer groups in the United States and elsewhere. Many have argued that the variety of date labels used by food manufacturers leads to confusion about food quality and food safety among consumers. Here we develop a laboratory experiment with treatments that expose subjects to different date labels (Sell by, Best by, Use by, and Fresh by) for six food products; we include both small and large-sized ready-to-eat cereal, salad greens, and yogurt. Our results show that, holding other observed factors constant, that date labels do influence subjects’ value of food waste. We find that subjects will waste food across all date labels, but that the value of waste is greatest in the “Use by” treatment, the date label suggestive of food safety, and lowest for the “Sell by” treatment. Two-way ANOVA tests provide evidence that subjects respond differentially to date labels by product. Pair-wise comparison indicate that the “Sell by” treatment generates a waste value that is different than other date labels. We see subjects have different values of waste depending on date label and product. The value of waste for cereal is more responsive to “Fresh by”; for salad, the value of waste is more responsive to all date labels except for “Fresh by”; for yogurt, subjects adjusted their value of waste the most to the “Sell by” treatment. Date labels influence food waste despite the limited information provided by the labels.


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